Aug 13th, 2017 | The 23rd Times

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Matt Piedimonte | Faith Called Into Focus

by Colleen Leavy, Bulletin Editor

In the upcoming weeks, high school students will be venturing towards a new and exciting chapter in their education as they head off to college. For many of them, it will be a truly incredible experience, shaping them into the confident and passionate individuals they will become for the rest of their lives. However, with this newly found independence, uncertainty and fear can emerge. While college can give students a new opportunity to renew and shape their identity, others can become lost, abandoning their faith and falling victim to peer pressure.

This rang true for Matt Piedimonte, a missionary for the group FOCUS (Fellowship of Catholic University Students). Raised in Western NY as the second of four boys in a Catholic home, Matt attended Canisius College in Buffalo, NY, where he graduated with a Finance Degree in 2012. Throughout his collegiate career, Matt struggled with maintaining his faith and connection to God. Without a strong identity, he fell victim to the party culture, following advice from his friends on how to become happy. This lifestyle ended up leaving Matt with more questions than answers, and a sense of unfulfillment. “Despite graduating and having a good job lined up, I still had an ache.”

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Shortly after graduating, his expected lifetime career in finance took a drastic turn. Traditionally, older siblings are usually meant to be the mentors. Ironically, Matt’s younger brother was the one that gave him the direction he had been seeking. “When I witnessed him receive communion”, Matt says, “it looked like he knew God and he had something I didn’t have. He was instrumental in bringing me back to the faith.” This began a journey of rediscovering Matt’s identity in Christ, which culminated in a spiritual encounter at Mass, when he heard Jesus say to him “I love you.” After this, it became clear to him that God was asking him to share his experience and lead other young college students to true fulfillment, in the very same place he fell furthest away.

Slowly, Matt began to walk in God’s direction, but it wasn’t until 2015 while speaking to a priest in Rochester, NY, that he was told about FOCUS, founded by Curtis Martin in 1989, after he too had fallen away from his faith. In just 28 years, FOCUS has grown to represent 600 missionaries with 140 campuses participating, including three in Europe!

When Matt resigned from his job as a crop insurance agent, he began training to become a FOCUS Missionary by using their strategy to win, build and send others in faith. Trained in Church teachings, prayer, sacred Scripture, evangelization and discipleship, FOCUS missionaries encounter students in friendship where they currently are in life, inviting them into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and accompanying them as they pursue lives of virtue and excellence. After serving two years at the University of Maine, he will enter his third year with the organization, spreading his faith to Temple University in Philadelphia, PA, to lead a team of four missionaries and 35 student leaders.

No matter how far away you feel you have strayed from your calling, Matt offers these words of advice: “God will never stop pursuing us. He calls each and every one of us to be Saints in every walk of life.”

For Additional Information

If you are a college student in search of spiritual guidance, visit: https://focusoncampus.org/find-my-campus

Additionally, you will be able to see which missionaries serve at your campus and how to contact them.
Missionaries do not receive a salary. Matt’s basic living and mission needs come from individuals, families, businesses and Parishes who wish to partner with him. Help support Matt and his vision through his online fund-page at: https://www.focus.org/missionaries/matthew-piedimonte

June 25th, 2017 | The 23rd Times

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Living Your Strengths

AT ST. JOHN XXIII CHURCH

by: Steve Engelman

At some time during the past seven years you may have seen and wondered about those five words near the bottom of parish name tags; noticed upcoming sessions advertised in the bulletin; or were one of the hundreds of parishioners who participated in a Living Your Strengths workshop.

Living Your Strengths, based on a book of the same title and the associated Clifton StrengthsFinder® assessment, has been a key component for enhancing parishioner engagement by raising awareness and understanding of the unique talents God bestowed upon each of us. These talents are natural ways of thinking, feeling and behaving that can be productively applied for enriching personal, communal, and spiritual lives.

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For the natural talents we are blessed with at birth to develop into true strengths, it requires awareness, understanding, education and practice to transform them from a raw condition to a more fully developed mature state.

The problem is most people do not know what their greatest talents are, or how to go about discovering them, and this untapped potential leads to a lack of engagement and spiritual fulfillment. Gallup’s research shows engagement drives a parish’s spiritual health and, contrary to popular belief, it is actually a greater sense of belonging felt by a parishioner that leads to enriched believing in the mission of Christ and the Church, not the opposite.

The model for achieving greater parishioner engagement, as defined by Gallup, is hierarchical with four stages building upon each other. Imagine a pyramid with the first level, or base, being “What do I get?” and the second level as “What do I give?”. The third and fourth levels are “Do I belong?” and “How can we grow?, respectively. At St. John XXIII, the first two levels are addressed in our Living Christ’s Covenant document originally introduced to parishioners in 2013 and renewed in February of this year. Additionally, the often displayed WORSHIP, GROW, SERVE, CONNECT, and GIVE banners are reminders of the “What do I give?” level and are intended to provide guidance to parishioners seeking to become further engaged and even more spiritual.

The level of parishioner engagement, and thus overall spiritual commitment, is measurable and can be categorized as shown below:

Engaged: These parishioners are intensely loyal with a strong psychological connection to our parish. They are more spiritually committed and more likely to extend invitations to others. They also tend to give more generously of their time, talents, and treasure.

Not Engaged: These parishioners may attend Mass regularly but are not psychologically connected and their connection is probably more social than spiritual. They donate moderately but not sacrificially and if they volunteer they only donate minimal amounts of time.

Actively Disengaged: These members usually attend Mass only once or twice a year, if at all. Some in this group may attend regularly, but if that’s the case, they are physically present but psychologically absent. Some are unhappy and may insist on sharing that unhappiness with just about anyone.

In 2011 our parish, with support from Gallup, conducted a survey to develop a baseline engagement measure and the results at that time were 32% engaged, 47% not engaged, and 21% actively disengaged. While these results were better than the average Catholic Church it was also apparent great opportunities exist.

Living your Strengths workshops address numerous elements of engagement and are designed to assist parishioners, through enhanced awareness and application of their unique talents, toward higher levels of engagement and the resulting spiritual enrichment.

You are invited to participate in the next workshop series where the ongoing journey toward greater satisfaction, throughout all aspects of your life, continues. During three interactive and enlightening sessions, you will transition from learning your unique God-given talents to truly living your strengths with greater understanding, confidence, and personal fulfillment. We will also explore the unique talents of others and the contributions each can make toward greater stewardship and discipleship.

This series of workshops is scheduled for July 11, 18, and 25 from 6pm-8pm

To register or for additional information please contact:

Jennifer Engelman in the parish office at jennifer@johnxxiii.net
or phone (239) 561-2245

June 11th, 2017 | The 23rd Times

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Our Parish Library

LORI IZRAL SERVING ST. JOHN XXIII CHURCH

Did You Know? Lori Izral has spent most of her adult life in service of the Church. As a teacher since 1957, she taught at Catholic elementary, high school, college and university levels.

In addition, she served in various positions in the Communications field with Jesuits in Communication/North America, UNDA-USA (the official Catholic organization for broadcasters) and the American Catholic Bishops’ Communications Commission.

Lori carried her service to other organizations in administrative roles, such as The Chicago Association for Retarded Citizens (Vice-President), The National Telemedia Council (President) and The North American Broadcast Section of the World Association for Christian Communication (President).

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Sixteen years ago, after retiring from Loyola University as Professor Emerita, she and her husband John moved from LaGrange, IL, to Fort Myers, FL. They have been members of St. John XXIII since its inception at Noonan Academy. Lori serves as lector, Eucharistic Minister and Homebound Minister.

In November, 2009, she found an ad in the Church bulletin: “Wanted – a Literature Minister.” This minister would “oversee a small collection of books and have a willingness to manage new donations.” Lori met with Damian Hanley, Communications Director for our Parish at the time, and told him “I could do this.” He said “Go for it!” So, she did!

Whether a professor, communicator or librarian, Lori believes that her service in the Church is truly one of her greatest blessings.

History of Our Parish Library

Our Parish Library was established in 2010 for the following reasons:

  • To expand our growing knowledge of our faith
  • To instruct us in spiritual development
  • To inspire us in the practice of our moral choices
  • To entertain with faith and Christian values in mind
  • To enable all ministries to consolidate resources and share them with the parish community

The Library began with 15 books donated by the priests and staff of the parish. Today we have processed more than 2,000 books. These books came to us from our generous priests and parishioners, the Friends of the Lakes Public Library, the St. John XXIII Thrift Store, the St. Cecilia Parish Library and the Legends Golfand Country Club Library. We continually welcome contributions to expand our library holdings. This year we hope to be processing CDs and DVDs to our collections.

Processing books includes the following: cleaning and repairing books (where needed), stamping, categorizing, making labels for pockets and cards, making labels for the spines of the books and listings in our inventory (author, title, publisher, year of publication and call letters). The books are sorted into 34 categories, such as, reference, biography, art, history, family issues, spirituality, death and dying, fiction, ecclesiology, prayer and meditation, senior issues, liturgy, health and healing…just to name a few.

Space limitations and lack of funding curtail our physical abilities to house these treasures. To that issue we have been using two carts in the narthex to circulate our books. The carts have 12 shelves holding a few hundred books in several categories. The rest of our books are held in the meeting room of the administration building. About 15 newly processed books are rotated into the carts each week.

Books may be signed out from either place for as long as needed. The larger collection is available for research, supplemental reading, and circulation. Access to the room is limited because of meetings, conferences and religious lessons. However, should you wish to use the library, just call the office at (239) 561-2245 to ask if the room is free or to make an appointment.

Some ways you can help us:

  • Please continue to use our library
  • Be sure to sign out the books: date, name and phone number
  • Handle the books gently: no markings, dog-eared pages or marginal notes
  • Return books to the designated shelf of the carts

Generosity and Gratitude are two sides of the same coin that builds our parish community. Blessings to you for your generosity in helping our ministry. Thank you, Lori, for your time, talent and treasure to St. John XXIII!

May 21st, 2017 | The 23rd Times

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Bishops among first signatories to pledge to end death penalty

By Mark Pattison | Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) — Bishops attending a meeting were among the first to sign the National Catholic Pledge to End the Death Penalty at the U.S. bishops’ headquarters building May 9.

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Each person taking the pledge promises to educate, advocate and pray for an end to capital punishment.

“All Christians and people of goodwill are thus called today to fight not only for the abolition of the death penalty, whether legal or illegal, and in all its forms, but also in order to improve prison conditions, with respect for the human dignity of the people deprived of their freedom,” Pope Francis has said. This quotation kicks off the pledge.

The pledge drive is organized by the Catholic Mobilizing Network.

“The death penalty represents a failure of our society to fulfill the demands of human dignity, as evidenced by the 159 people and counting who have been exonerated due to their innocence since 1973,” the organization says on the pledge sheet following space for someone’s signature.

Quoting from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the network added, “The death penalty is not needed to maintain public safety, punishment must ‘correspond to the concrete conditions of the common good and (be) more in conformity to the dignity of the human person.’”

After capital punishment was halted nationwide briefly in the 1970s, more than 1,400 people have been executed since it resumed 40 years ago, according to the Catholic Mobilizing Network. “The prolonged nature of the death penalty process can perpetuate the trauma for victims’ families and prevents the opportunity for healing and reconciliation called for in the message of Jesus Christ.”

The idea for the pledge campaign took root in January, said Catholic Mobilizing Network executive director Karen Clifton in an interview with Catholic News Service. It is supported in part by a $50,000 grant from the U.S. bishops’ Catholic Communication Campaign.

Clifton said Arkansas’ bid to execute eight death-row prisoners in a 10-day span in April — four were ultimately put to death — “exacerbated the situation and showed it as a very live example of who we are executing and the reasons why the system is so broken,” she said.

Penalties for crime are “supposed to be retributive, but also restorative. The death penalty is definitely not restorative,” Clifton said. Those on death row are not the worst of the worst, they’re the least — the marginalized, the poor, those with improper (legal) counsel,” she added.

Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, said he and his fellow bishops have voiced their views strongly with Gov. Rick Scott of Florida, where capital punishment is legal and where prisoners have been executed.

Bishop Dewane, in recalling Pope John Paul II’s successful personal appeal to the governor of Missouri to spare a death-row inmate’s life during the pope’s visit to St. Louis in 1999, said the episode offers hope. “It’s a great example,” he added. “You never know how your words will be taken, or accepted.”

Bishop Jaime Soto of Sacramento, California, who was one of a number of bishops who signed the pledge following a daylong meeting May 9 at the U.S. bishops’ headquarters building in Washington, said the church’s ministry to prisoners is another source of hope. “It’s the ministry of companionship that’s so important,” he noted.

Bishop Soto said the ministry of accompaniment is also necessary to the victims of crime. He recalled an instance when a priest of his diocese, who was expected to attend a meeting of priests, had to bow out “because he had to bury someone who had been killed by violence in his neighborhood. … We are not recognizing that the futility of the death penalty system.”

Capuchin Father John Pavlik, president of the Conference of Major Superiors of Men, told CNS that networking is a key tool in the toolbox in spreading information opposing the death penalty. CMSM, he said, has a person on staff to monitor issues surrounding justice and peace, and has consistently communicated capital punishment information to CMSM members.

Father Pavlik said he takes inspiration from an Ohio woman whose child was murdered decades ago. The killer was arrested, tried and convicted on a charge of capital murder, “and she has spent the last 25 years advocating against the execution of this man.” The priest also voiced his distaste at the “disregard for life” shown in Arkansas, which he said had tried to execute eight death-row prisoners in such a short time because “the drug (used in the fatal injection) was going to expire.”

April 30th, 2017 | The 23rd Times

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The Gift of Life

TESTIMONY FROM A ORGAN DONOR RECIPIENT

by: Clayton Atkins

If you ever have the pleasure of meeting Brian Bourgraf in person, my bet is that you wouldn’t immediately realize that he is a walking miracle. He is a cheerful man of fifty-three, with a delightful smile that emits a warm aura. Despite this general kindness that surrounds Brian, there isn’t anything else about him that strikes me as extraordinary—he seems like a normal guy. But that’s the miracle. Brian is here. He’s living his life, like any one of us.

However, Brian is not just a normal guy. He was born with Eagle-Barrett syndrome, a rare congenital disease that affects the abdominal muscles and urinary tract. In 1963, this uncommon birth defect could have been a death sentence. For the first 4 ½ years of his life, Brian lived in the hospital, tethered to a dialysis machine. He needed an organ transplant, a procedure which was still in its infancy. At that time, the surgery that Brian needed had only been performed on baboons. Four year-old Brian needed a double kidney transplant.

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Brian is a walking piece of history. His double kidney transplant was the first successful operation of its kind. But the doctors’ ingenious solution to his rare medical problem is not the most miraculous aspect of Brian’s story. The real miracle is the gift of life. The surgeons who performed the life-saving transplant were working with tools that only God could provide. Brian is here with us today because he received two kidneys from an organ donor, an infant who was taken off life support. I cannot begin to comprehend the pain of losing a newborn child, and neither can Brian. Yet, he owes his life to this couple, who chose to donate their child’s organs. From death, came life.

We all suffer—some more than others. But our suffering is never in vain. How could we experience joy without suffering? How could we appreciate life, without death? And here we approach one of life’s essential mysteries: why do we suffer and die? Such a stark and staggering question. Fortunately, when this brutal reality of everyday life rears its ugly head, we can choose to respond positively…we suffer and die for others. This is Christ’s essential message. We must sacrifice ourselves for the sake of others. This is what saved Brian’s life. A child died; but in death, that child preserved life.

Essentially, Brian’s story is an Easter story. What did we just witness in the Easter season? Jesus died, and in death, he gave us life. This is what Brian experienced when he received two healthy kidneys in 1968. Death, pain, and suffering…we can dwell on these things and let them dominate our perspective, or, we can view them from the Christian perspective, and choose to see life in death, growth in suffering. One grief-stricken family’s choice led to a full and productive life.

When I asked Brian to explain his outlook on life, as someone who almost lost it, his meager reply was: “Something was given to me, so now I have to give back.” What better words could we live by? You shouldn’t have to undergo such a harrowing experience to reach this message. You can find it throughout the Gospels: as Catholics, we believe that we are born in God’s grace, and that we must extend that Grace to everyone we meet. Brian has dedicated his life to this principle. He spent his career in a special part of the family business, raising hundreds of thousands of dollars for charity and trying to make an impact on other people’s lives, just like one couple did for him, when he was only four years-old.

But Brian’s story doesn’t end with the successful operation from his childhood. Eventually, the kidneys he received from his infant benefactor wore out. It’s a miracle that this didn’t happen sooner. Most kidney transplant patients can expect to live for 10–20 years.

Brian was going on 50 when, suddenly, he felt something inside of him “turn off.” His second kidney failure did not cause him any direct pain; he simply noticed that something was wrong. The diagnosis was grim. He would need another transplant immediately. By this time, Brian had built himself such a reputation of selflessness and giving, that the mayor, a judge, and many other citizens of the small town that he called home offered to donate a kidney. However, it was ultimately his older brother, Joe, who wound up on the operating table beside him.

In 2011, Brian received another kidney, which saved his life once again.

Brian’s life is truly a miracle: if that caring couple hadn’t donated their dying child’s organs, Brian would be dead. If his brother hadn’t undergone the grueling process of testing and donating his own body, Brian would not be with us. He is here today because of the selfless choices that others have made. And he is grateful for everything. I have never seen anyone who has suffered so severely, strive to give back as much as Brian has. His fundraising efforts alone could account for millions of dollars’ worth of aid, but his true testament to humanity is his dedication to service. Brian considers his life a gift, because it truly was one. But we shouldn’t need such an extreme example to guide our own actions. All of our lives are a gift from God, and the only way that we can return the favor is by selflessly helping others.

Because Brian has lived his entire life on borrowed time, he is hyper-aware of how he owes his life to others: the infant who lost his life; the parents who made a selfless decision; Brian’s own parents, El and Elaine, who spent countless hours in doctor’s offices and hospitals, agonizing over their son; Brian’s younger brother, El-B, who has supported him since they were children, his older brother, Joe, who extended Brian’s lease on life; and, especially, his wife, Cathy, who has undergone health troubles of her own. One of the positives sides to suffering is that it prepares you to face whatever challenges life can throw at you. Brian admits that without the love and support from these people and countless others, he wouldn’t be here with us today. Thankfully, he is, and through his suffering, he has emerged as a strong, resilient person who has devoted his life to serving others.

Organ donation is perhaps one of the easiest ways that we can help others. Although, of course, the tragedy of a death is difficult to overcome, we can humbly mimic Christ’s sacrifice on the cross; by offering parts of ourselves or our loved ones to others, we reenact Christ’s death and resurrection—we give life.

April is National Donate Life Month. Brian’s story should serve as a reminder that each of us, no matter how broken, are gifts from God, and we should not waste the gift of life. Currently, there are 5,300 people awaiting lifesaving organ transplants in Florida, and 118,000 people across the country. One organ and tissue donor can potentially save the lives of eight people and enhance 75 other lives. Please consider making the selfless choice of becoming an organ donor. This is a decision that should be undertaken in conversation with your loved ones. We are here now, but one day, we won’t be. However, we all have the opportunity, even in death, to extend the gift of life that we were given by God.

To learn more about organ donation, visit Organ Transplant Recipients of South West Florida’s webpage at www.organsupport.org or call (239) 247-3073

Feb. 26th, 2017 | The 23rd Times

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Building a Civilization of Love

PARISH MISSION WITH FR. BERETTA

The news in our world is dominated by turmoil. Violence and political tensions are on the rise at home and abroad.

Last summer, in the midst of many other incidents, an 84-year old French priest, Fr. Jacques Hamel, was murdered as he celebrated Mass. Archbishop Dominique Lebrun, in Poland for the World Youth Day when Fr. Hamel was killed, issued a statement to young pilgrims before rushing home: “The only weapons which the Catholic Church can take up are prayer and brotherhood among peoples. I return home leaving hundreds of young people who are truly the future of humanity. I ask them not to give up in the face of violence, but to become apostles of the civilization of love.”

The Mass that Fr. Hamel died celebrating reminds us that adversity, tragedy, and loss do not relieve us of our call to love one another. As disciples, Jesus calls us to love our enemies, pray for our persecutors, and turn the other cheek.

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We are called to build the Kingdom of God, a civilization of love, and to do so requires both trust in God and the radical optimism that affirms the goodness of every human being. This trust and optimism is at the heart of the Catholic faith.

As our world is gripped by fear and anxiety, our mission as a Church is that much more vital and necessary. The mission will explore how authentic faith and vibrant spirituality can help to ground us in our challenging and difficult times.

ABOUT FR. BERETTA:

Fr. Chris Beretta, an Oblates of St. Francis de Sales, is the principal at Salesianum School in Wilmington, DE. A native of California, he graduated from Paul VI High School in Fairfax, VA, in 1986, and Allentown College of St. Francis de Sales (now DeSales University) in Center Valley, PA, in 1991, where he received a Bachelor’s degree in Theology.

As a young Oblate, he taught Social Justice to juniors and helped coach basketball and baseball at Salesianum from 1991-1993. He returned to graduate school and earned a Master of Divinity from the DeSales School of Theology in Washington, DC, and a Master of Arts in Sport Psychology from the University of Maryland, in 1997. He was ordained a priest on May 31, 1997, at St. Anthony of Padua Church in Wilmington, and was assigned again to Salesianum from 1997-1999. In July, 1999, he transferred to Bishop Verot High School in Fort Myers, FL, where he would spend eleven years, first as campus minister from 1999-2003, and then as principal from 2003-2010, maintaining involvement in the classroom, coaching, and retreat and service programs as he transitioned into school leadership.

In Holy Week of 2008, he made his first trip to Haiti, where the life and work of Fr. Tom Hagan, OSFS, has had a transformative influence on his faith and ministry. In July 2009, he received a Master of Arts in Educational Administration from the University of Notre Dame, and one year later, in July 2010, returned to Salesianum as the school’s 17th principal.

Now in his seventh year at Salesianum, he remains energized by the challenge of building a community of faith and learning, integrating 21st century learning with Salesian spirituality, and working with dedicated colleagues to maintain a student-centered environment that is both reflective of the world’s diversity and authentically Catholic. He has served in Catholic schools for twenty-two years as a teacher, coach, campus minister, and principal.

Feb. 5th, 2017 | The 23rd Times

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Connecting to God With Spiritual Fulfillment

by: Mike Navarro

Throughout the month of January, we have discussed some of the suggested actions our Parishioners could take to develop a stronger discipleship with our Lord Jesus Christ. This week we discuss the fourth category, “connect”. It urges us, as brothers and sisters in faith, to a deeper participation in activities which broaden our ability to bring peace and love to others.

Some common uses of the word “connect” are: to unite or fasten together, to relate or be in harmony with, to associate mentally or emotionally with a fact or a meaning. It comes from the Latin word ‘connectere’, meaning “to tie” and a synonym is “to join”, while an antonym is “to dissociate”. So it is very clear that if we wish to be a greater disciple, fully enlightened and capable, then we must extend our involvement in order to increase our understanding … Lets look at some examples of how we can do that.

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“Men’s Gospel Forum”: this group is now in it’s 7th year, meeting at 7am each Monday. During the winter season as many as 45 men spend the hour before 8am Mass, studying the gospel message for the next weeks liturgy. Their first objective is to gain a greater understanding of the biblical passages. An equally important objective is an enhanced awareness of the applicability of the message to the pursuit of life today. From the questions and shared testimonies of other attendees, they gain a personal understanding and empathy that points them to the need for changes and growth in their personal life and within the society around them.

Following on the success of the Men’s Gospel Forum, the parish formed a ministry titled “Faith Alive”. Its goal is to develop adult faith formation programs which address the desires and needs of our members. A recent example of their efforts is the “Opening the Word” program. It is held each Tuesday from 9-10:30am and is open to all men and women that wish to attend. It also focuses on the upcoming Sunday readings, uses a short video, and prompts discussion on the implications presented in the Word. Of course, all are welcome to connect!

The spiritual camaraderie and greater sense of hope and purpose are the blessings given through forums such as these and the zeal of the participants is broadened even further when many also attend the “Faith and Ale” events held in other parish halls throughout Lee County during the winter months. The stated mission of “Faith and Ale” is to provide the opportunity for growth in wisdom and understanding, and to strengthen our roles as spiritual leaders. Socializing with beer and pizza, attendees participate in a multi-parish program with up to 250 men living out their faith as they hear of the challenges, and learn how to support the solutions brought to them by popular and respected national speakers and leaders of Christian life .

The same opportunities are available for women through attendance at the meetings held by “Faith and Wine”. This organization shares the same objectives and methods, (though the women prefer wine and snacks) and provides 5 or 6 events attended by several hundred women from parishes throughout the county.

The programs discussed above are excellent examples of “connecting” to further one’s spiritual fulfillment. Similar opportunities for growth and contribution are to be found in any of the other parish ministries, and all are eager for more participants. For example, if you haven’t been a part of a prayer walk opposing abortion, then you have never felt the positive impact of a “thumbs up” sign from the car of a passing supporter. If you want that sense of fulfillment and satisfaction, just get involved in the “Respect Life” ministry.

Or, if you want to do something extra to connect with the educational needs of our local youth, then please volunteer for one of the many jobs at the Parish Thrift Store where the annual revenues are donated to the Catholic Education Fund. You will also be creating solutions for many of the needy and disadvantaged as you help to provide the clothing they so desperately need.

In conclusion, let us focus on the theological virtue of faith… It enables us to express our belief in God and His words, as we search to know and do His will. We can best learn to profess that faith, bear witness to it, and pass it on, by “connecting” to the opportunities around us. At St. John XXIII, we pray for the spiritual fulfillment of all parishioners.

Jan. 29th, 2017 | The 23rd Times

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Catholic School’s Week

Receiving the Call to Serve

by: Clayton Atkins

People often speak of receiving a call to serve. The language has become something of a cliché: we hear how “we are all called to serve God in different ways”; how “we are called to serve each other”; or, especially this time of year, how we are called to serve the Church by supporting this or that drive, appeal, or fundraiser. In my case, I received a literal call to service—a phone call that is.

I had just moved back to Fort Myers with my soon-to-be wife, who had accepted a teaching position at a local elementary school. I had spent the last seven years in Gainesville, Florida, where we met, where I studied Literature, where I soon realized that there weren’t many jobs for bookish types who liked to read and talk about literary things, and where I subsequently jumped around from one job to another. I wouldn’t say that I was floundering, but my life certainly lacked direction. My professors at the university had talked me out of pursuing a graduate degree in English, citing poor career prospects for teaching positions in the humanities. I remember one of them telling me that if I wanted to teach English, high school would be my best bet. So I toyed with the idea; I suppose it was in the back of my mind, but I wasn’t fully committed. I didn’t have a plan.

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Then I received my call. I had only been back in town for a few months when my phone rang with an unknown number on the screen. Upon answering, I recognized the familiar, yet somewhat forgotten voice of my former English teacher from Bishop Verot. She mentioned an unforeseen vacancy in the English department, said that she had heard that I was back in town, and immediately thought of me.

Now, some of you may be thinking, “Great. You got a job. Good for you, but what does any of this have to do with service?” Well, I would encourage you to speak with teachers about their work; I can assure you that even a short conversation about their day-to-day lives would reveal that teaching is nothing if it is not service to others. This is especially true of teaching at a Catholic school.

I suppose that I shouldn’t have been surprised when I received my call to serve as a teacher at a Catholic school, even if it did seem to come out of nowhere. Although I hadn’t spoken with my former teacher in years, I thought about her often. It was in her classroom where my heart and mind were first captivated by the power of the written word. I remember many late nights in college when something I read would trigger a memory from her class: an oft-repeated phrase, a silly pun, a deep insight. Her passion, understanding, and devotion changed my life, and I hadn’t even recognized it.

I had never given it much thought, but I am most certainly a product of Catholic education: I attended Catholic schools for the entirety of my childhood and adolescence, so I was used to having passionate teachers who cared about their subjects and, more importantly, their students. In my years as a student at Bishop Verot, it wasn’t uncommon to see a dozen or so lonely cars scattered throughout the parking lot as the sun set in the evenings. Today, this is still a common sight. The teachers at Bishop Verot sacrifice their time and energy to serve their students—staying late to help a struggling student, plan a memorable lesson, or read a never-ending stack of college essays.

There is a reason why I chose to use the word sacrifice. The notion of Christian service is intricately intertwined with sacrifice. Perhaps a Bible verse will best illustrate my point. In John’s telling of Christ’s final days, immediately before Jesus serves his disciples his Last Supper, he humbles himself and performs a service for them.

When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments again he went back to the table. ‘Do you understand’, he said, ‘what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and rightly; so I am. If I, then, the Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you must wash each other’s feet. I have given you an example so that you may copy what I have done to you. ‘In all truth I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, no messenger is greater than the one who sent him. (13 John)

What Christ was calling his disciples to do, and what he is calling on us to do by his example, is to serve. It is telling that Jesus chose that particular moment to perform this simple service. He was about to make the ultimate sacrifice on the cross. To serve another is to sacrifice a part of yourself. Service is an act of giving, and in order to give, we must give something up. However, it is important for us not to think of sacrifice only in the negative way that the word is often intoned. There is a beauty to Christ’s sacrifice, made in service to all of humanity.

In this passage, Christ twice refers to himself as “Teacher.” Teachers sacrifice their time and energy every day for their students. But an important aspect of this passage is Christ’s inversion of the roles of Masters and Servants. Christ, the Master, Teacher, and Lord, humbly serves His servants. An integral aspect of Catholic education is attempting to reverse the role of Teacher and Student. Teachers are called to serve their students, but students are likewise called to serve each other.

I know from personal experience at Bishop Verot, that students learn to serve each other in many ways. This service can manifest itself in small acts of kindness such as tutoring a struggling student, standing up for a fellow classmate, or volunteering for local charities. But oftentimes, this service can also take the form of heartwarming displays of communal sacrifice. Two years ago, when a Bishop Verot student was diagnosed with cancer and had to undergo costly treatment, our basketball coach, Coach Herting, organized “Southwest Florida’s largest garage sale” in our gymnasium. Students were encouraged to donate anything of value. The result was an entire basketball court littered with stuff, and hundreds of faculty members, staff, students, and parents sacrificing their time to clean, organize, and sell it. Yes, we all gave something up, but in giving, we received what we always receive when we sacrifice ourselves for others—community, warmth, friendship, and that feeling of satisfaction that you can only get from serving others.

This is just the first thing that came to my mind when I thought about how the Bishop Verot family serves the community and one another; there are countless others.

In light of this year’s Catholic Schools Week, I would like to encourage each of you to speak with current and former students from St. Francis Xavier and Bishop Verot, to get an idea about how they are learning to be of service to our community.

For more information visit their websites:
http://stfrancisfortmyers.org/
http://bvhs.org/

Jan. 22nd, 2017 | The 23rd Times

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Growing in Your Faith Sounds Wonderful… Until the Work Begins

By Damian Hanley

If growing in our faith was easy, everyone would do it. Some days, I feel like stagnation is an accomplishment. But it’s not. Stagnation is a lie. Without concerted effort to become better Catholics, entropy leads us down a path that is so, so easy to walk down. Everywhere we look we see the cheapening of life and the degradation of humanity. And so we go to Church every Sunday and pay our bills. We’re kind to others and we’re patient in our workplace. We forgive telemarketers for interrupting us. Sometimes we even look our waiter in the eye and over-tip because we know his life is hard and we’ve been blessed. But this isn’t growth. This is just common decency.

This week, or month, or year or whatever your stamina can tolerate, we want to challenge you to grow in your faith. What does that even mean? Being a better Catholic means going out of your way to be messengers of Christ. He taught love, tolerance, forgiveness, patience and in general, alleviating the suffering that is everywhere you look… if you look.

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We interviewed Kathy Ogan because she’s an example of someone that didn’t have to change. There are plenty of women in her demographic that play golf and swill martinis and live out their lives in relative comfort because…why not? Let’s face it, most of us need an absolute crisis to get shaken out of our comfort zones. And outside our comfort zones is where real growth takes place. Disagree? Go spend an afternoon on Palm Beach Blvd at our St. Martin de Porres ministry and try to spread the Gospel there. Report back to us.

But by all measures, Kathy had an idyllic upbringing.

“I was the youngest of 6 children and my parents were very involved with the faith. We grew up saying the Rosary during the month of the Rosary and there was a lot of prayer in the home. There were a lot of religious artifacts around the house, and my family was heavily involved with the Church. I went to Catholic grade school and high school, but after high school, there might have been a few years where I didn’t really attend regularly – for no particular reason. But I eventually made it back.”

Dysfunctional parents? Nope. “My mother was my role model. Kind, giving, gentle and faith-filled, she always brought the lessons of life back to her faith.”

For a lot of us, we move through life and take our faith for granted. That is, we make mistakes, we stumble, but we’re surrounded by a social safety net that will catch us before we fall too low. Our appetites are tame because we want for nothing. We have a general sense that the world is a decent place because, well, this is the United States and we believe in fairness and some semblance of a meritocracy.

But somewhere along the way, an inexplicable void antagonizes our peace. Some turn to the drink, others affairs or money. We seek and do not find until we realize that the cure to what ails us is spiritual.

And this is where, whether overtly or in the depths of our soul, we ask our God to touch us and push us in the direction of growth.
Sometimes our need to grow comes later in life, as it did for Kathy. “I was at women’s Catholic retreat in my mid-40’s at my Parish in Indiana. And during that weekend, I heard women share their stories. I heard them talk about serious conflicts in their lives and how they’d depended on their faith to carry them through. It was the first time in my life that I really started considering a personal relationship with Christ. There was also this priest that went through each part of the Mass and explained the evolution of how the modern Mass came to be. It was an incredibly intimate experience.”

Kathy emerged more dedicated and genuinely wanting a closer connection to her faith. She became a Eucharistic Minister and a Sacristan. “It wasn’t even something I was looking for at that time, but I said yes.”

Having that intimate encounter with the women on the retreat – women on the same mission as herself taught her a valuable lesson.
“You see and feel on a deeper level that everyone carries something with them. And you find out how they survive – how they make it. You find out from where they draw their strength. It’s Christ.”

Really, it is though.

“One woman forgave another couple for their son shooting and killing her son. It was accidental, but she knew she had to confront these people and tell them that she forgave them, and that she didn’t hold any ill feelings.”

That experience taught her the vital importance of sharing those parts of ourselves with each other, because we’ve all got something to work on. That’s how we grow. We confront the darkest parts of ourselves. Our culture would have gladly justified her resentment if she were to carry it to her grave, but our faith demands we forgive.

God has a way of covertly touching our hearts when we aren’t expecting it. Kathy is a very poised, elegant woman who you may not expect would jump head first into the gritty side of hospital ministry, but she did.

“I’ve worked on fundraisers and concert committees, and been a Eucharistic minister, but the hospital ministry has definitely provided the most growth in my faith. You walk into a room and you never know what you’re going to find. These are people who are in serious need of communion.”

“I’ve been to many of the women’s retreats and in them you meet so many of the women of the Parish. It makes you feel so connected. You realize we’re all part of this great community… and that’s what I was really looking for. I don’t want to be just a church attendee. I want to be a church member.

Kathy is the community outreach chair of her neighborhood. She volunteers at Lifeline Family Center – a home for at-risk pregnant and new mothers. She’s begun volunteering at Verity, a pro-life crisis pregnancy center. This is the track record of a person who is in “growth mode”.

There have been periods of my life characterized by this path as well. Kathy is purposefully putting herself in situations where the most marginalized and vulnerable people in our society reside – the ill and infirmed, the isolated and ashamed. These are the people that Christ would have spent his time with if he were walking the earth today.

Our Parish – St. John XXIII is a faith-filled place, full of believers and those that understand the Path. We know how to walk the path, and we know better when we’re not walking it. But there is still a huge population of people out there – the young, the neglected, and the exploited, who really don’t know what it means to be loved. Christ to them is an esoteric idea that their lack of self-worth won’t allow them to truly accept.

If they were present, their parents were a disaster. Their educational system failed them, and they’re caught in a spiral of chasing hedonistic pleasure until the consequences become too much for them to handle.

The law catches up to them. An addiction overtakes them. They sell the only asset they have, and we, in our gated communities think only about trafficking and slavery when it hits the news or when October rolls around. But sex slavery and prostitution take no days off.

These are the girls that end up in the NICU, or at Verity, or at Lifeline because the $400 they were given to terminate, ended up at the methadone clinic. And it is the Catholic’s job to love these people.

That’s how we really grow. We love the unlovable – the lepers.
“The important truth that I’ve been searching for, for several years is…my purpose… What is my purpose for Christ on earth? And how can I use my experiences for good? Everything I’ve been through in my past – I’ve found – is to be used for his purpose,” Kathy shares. “Something will come through me and touch someone for His purpose.”

“The early stages of my faith journey didn’t really begin until my 40s, but the lesson I’ve learned is that growth only happens with participation… even the slightest bit of participation will take you somewhere. The one thing I’ve done right is I’ve just reached out. I have a list of past and present ministries that I’ve been a part of – like the soup kitchen or the food pantry. I’ll try something for a year and see if it feels right. Our Parish doesn’t care if something isn’t a fit.”

I think the first step to growth is awareness. If you have a roof over your head, a basic grasp of Christ’s message to the poor (of spirit) and are relatively happy, you have MUCH to give. This is your exercise for this week. Jump on your computer. Go to Google, and type in “lee county sheriff arrest yesterday” and click on the top result. Click on their names and look at their faces. Look at the years they were born – 1995, 1998, 1989. Look at their charges – larceny, petty theft, battery, DUI, trespassing, resisting an officer, possession of a controlled substance. Depending on what time of day, there might be 20 or 30 people. Look at their eyes. If you don’t think there are thousands of people in our city that need a Christian, you are telling yourself a lie. These people will end up at the Salvation Army. They’ll end up in prison. They’ll end up in a women’s shelter. They’ll end up in diversion programs, and they will continue this cycle until someone shows up and loves them the way Christ demands we love them. If you want to grow in your faith, this is the fast track. Volunteer at these places and see what happens to your spiritual life.

Be like Kathy. Put yourself in front of the suffering and you will grow. Common decency is nice, but holiness is much, much nicer.

Jan. 8th, 2017 | The 23rd Times

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Living Christ’s Covenant at St. John XXIII

By: Michael Mullin – Parish Advisory Council President

Throughout biblical history God has been actively and deliberately directing people to Him by establishing “covenants” with them. The first covenant was with Adam and Eve whose sinful action resulted in their banishment from Eden. Today, all who sin still share in this woundedness (Original Sin) and can be saved only by a new birth and life in Christ.

The second Covenant was made to Noah, a righteous man, at a time of great wickedness on earth. The wicked were destroyed by flood, but Noah and his people were permitted to be fruitful and increase in numbers.

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A third covenant was formed with Abraham and highlighted grace through faith, and this covenant was passed on to Isaac and Jacob and their heirs. It provided the early foreshadowing and testimony to the eventual New and Eternal Covenant of Jesus.

God continued to give His love and direction to His people as seen in the covenant made with Moses including the gift of the Ten Commandments, providing the Israelites with a way of living the covenant and receiving God’s salvation. The inevitable failure of some to meet those responsibilities pointed to the future need for a Messiah, an “anointed one” who would offer Himself for the salvation of all.

The final covenant of the Old Testament established the physical nation of Israel with David and his descendants, but also foretold that a spiritual kingdom would later come with the Messiah as king.

God’s great love for all people is clearly seen in these historical covenants, and His desire to form a personal covenant with each of us is found in many passages: “They shall be my people and I will be their God. I will make an everlasting covenant with them and will not cease to do them good”. He then became man, and in his final days, at the Last Supper, Jesus offered us this opportunity: “All of you drink of this: for this is the blood of the NEW COVENANT which is being shed for many unto the forgiveness of sins”.

Isn’t it comforting to know that all of us are covered by an agreement creating and establishing a relationship with God that guarantees our heavenly salvation?! Does it move you to consider what you could be doing right now to enhance your relationship with God, offering you spiritual fulfillment and inner peace?

At St. John XXIII we are committed to a mission statement that says we will actively engage all those who desire to live more fully the message of Christ. As a result, over the last 4 years, we have suggested 5 fundamental areas where parishioners could focus their mental, physical and spiritual efforts to nurture personal holiness by living more responsibly as stewards of God’s gifts. You will see them featured on the banners behind the altar during the following 5 weeks, with one being emphasized every weekend.

The 5 pillars are:

Worship: As we seek forgiveness, acceptance and love, can we increase the fervor and zeal with which we admit our dependence on God and offer a greater expression of our gratitude?

Connect: Are we a supportive and positive influence in the lives of those around us in both the parish and in our community, offering friendship and concern as Jesus demonstrated?

Grow: As we consider our current position, can we expand our knowledge, faith, and virtue, to become a better expression of the person God wishes us to be?

Give: Do we adequately respond out of gratitude for the blessings received and enjoyed by sharing these gifts of God?

Serve: In the midst of a world beset with economic, sociological and spiritual dichotomy, what more should we be doing, and how much more should we be loving those needing mercy and help?

We have recently celebrated the Immaculate Conception of Mary and the Christmas liturgies which tell of Christ’s birth as the reason for our salvation. Keeping the Christmas message in mind and with the approach of the Lenten season, let us focus on how to receive and live that message as we pray for the Holy Spirit’s direction and guidance to recognize Christ’s New Covenant and our role to live out His Covenant.

We pray that the 5 pillars may nourish your thoughts and actions and bring you to an even greater sense of spiritual fulfillment.

Nov. 13th, 2016 | The 23rd Times

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Faith & Wine/Ale & Why Small Groups are Vital to Your Faith

By Damian Hanley

Small groups are the backbone of a healthy and thriving Church. At St. John XXIII, we like to think of ourselves that way. On more than one occasion from the pulpit, Father Bob describes the Church as the “triage hospital on the battlefield of life.” The small group is not just a pleasant addition to our Church, but a necessity for the spiritual health of its members. Without small groups, any ministry will be limited to what just a handful of leaders can accomplish by themselves.

In Exodus 18:21 (NASB), we read “Furthermore, you shall select out of all the people able men who fear God, men of truth, those who hate dishonest gain; and you shall place these over them as leaders of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties and of tens.”

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There is great wisdom in the people of our small groups. We can’t (and shouldn’t) depend solely on our priests for the love and direction we need. Small groups can help prevent what has been called the “Sunday-Only” culture of our faith. We can’t simply sit and listen only on Sunday – faith is an active, all-week way of life. The opportunities to grow closer to God happen daily, and we need other people to help us see them. Faith & Ale and Faith & Wine Lee County are two such small groups that are growing rapidly in our diocese.

“We kicked off our third season on October 27th, and we’re really excited for this year’s events,” shares Sue Ammon, president of Faith & Wine. “In the beginning, three years ago, we got together month after month and planned it, hoping all along that people would actually want to come! On opening night we had almost 300 women. We were floored! We were so excited.”

“Faith and Ale originated from the Men’s Gospel Forum back in 2008 when we were still Blessed John the 23rd. We actually still meet every Monday morning at 7:00am to discuss this week’s upcoming Gospel,” Mike Lancellot shares.

Even if you don’t know a single person going into a monthly meeting, you’ll at least be inspired and entertained by their slated cast of speakers. Just this past November 10th, Faith and Ale hosted Major Ed Pulido, the Sr. VP of the Folds of Honor Foundation a Veteran’s charity which provides the spouses and children of the fallen and wounded educational scholarships. He’s also a Founding member of Warriors for Freedom Foundation – a leadership institute focused on the mental, physical and wellness support of our wounded Veterans and their families.

In August of 2004, Major Pulido hit an I.E.D, or roadside bomb, while serving with the Coalition Military Assistance Training Team under the command of General David Petraeus. Due to the extensive injuries to his left knee, doctors had to amputate his left leg. During his recovery, he experienced depression, PTSD and suicidal ideation, as part of what he describes as a “deep wounding of a soldier’s spirit.”

He then realized that recovery would become a lifelong process, a process dependent upon God, his country, and his close family and friends. He could not do it alone. This further reinforces the importance of small groups within a larger church. Small groups can provide a sense of family for many whose biological family lives far away. Unlike generations past, it is increasingly more common for adults to find themselves living far away from their biological family. Add the growing number of broken homes and dysfunctional families and you have a snapshot of the 21st century. The right kind of small group can play a vital role in providing a sense of family.

“After every single event, people come up to us as they’re leaving and tell us how much the speaker touched them. They were either struggling with an issue, or – and this is very common – people explain that they were thinking of leaving the Church, but something about the speaker convinced them to stay,” Sue shares. “These are the real reasons we started this ministry and we just get so excited when we hear them.”

Something unique happens in a small group setting, and it’s important we recognize it and explain why it matters. It’s cliché to say that we’re less connected in a world that is more connected than ever, but even if things hadn’t changed, it’s still hard to make friends as an adult! We’re set in our ways. We have a backlog of unconscious prejudice we’ve developed as a natural byproduct of living in our culture. We’re lazy and being social takes emotional energy, which we don’t have.

But small groups are the best place to meet new people, care for others and be cared for yourself. The idea that we can grow spiritually while isolating ourselves is insanity. Getting and giving direction based on spiritual principles must be done in dialogue with our fellows. In our childish minds, the myth of the ascetic visiting a mountaintop to absorb divine wisdom must be dispelled. That’s not you. We belong in community with others.

Dialogue is one of the key ingredients of spiritual growth. If every spiritual experience we have is about listening, if it’s all about one-way communication, then we’re going to miss one of the most important developmental aspects of a growing faith.

“We’ve been really excited about what happens at our events,” says Sue. “The women come in and they’re very enthusiastic. They like their glass of wine and connecting with each other, while eating together. And then after the speaker, we again connect in what we call Table Talk, where we usually share how the speaker has touched us.”

“We have a similar format,” Mike explains. “The men have their name tags with their Parish on them, and we definitely do form friendships with men of other Parishes. From 6:00 to 6:45 we have social time and after the speaker, there’s open Q&A. And the guys love it. We’ve really grown through word of mouth. This past season we averaged 216 men per event. Prior to that it was 174 per event and three seasons ago we were at 145 men on average. That kind of growth year after year means we’re doing something right.”

Despite the large number of people at each event, the social time is constrained to smaller round tables of 5-7 people, so that real conversation can take place. So, if you’re not already a part of a small group at St. John XXIII, Faith & Wine/Ale is a great place to start.

Small groups aren’t just a gimmicky church growth strategy. They’re not just the latest innovation. They’re not just something fun to do, nor are they just something to fill up people’s time.

Small groups are the heart of the Church, because without relational connections, the church isn’t The Church. At best, without relationships with Christ and our fellow Parishioners, we are putting on a show. At worst, we’re wasting people’s time, energy, and resources. Relationships with people who want what’s best for us and who are headed in the direction we want to head, and who aspire to a closer connection with Christ – these are what fuel our faith.

For more information on event dates, speakers and the mission of each organization, visit faithandale.com and faithandwineleecounty.com.

Nov. 6th, 2016 | The 23rd Times

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Vickie Gelardi Reflects on Her Role Within The Women’s Guild

By Colleen Leavy

Guided by faith, prayer, knowledge and concern, The Women’s Guild helps build St. John XXIII’s community through friendship, spiritual reflection, and the support of those in need.

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The Women’s Guild success is due to the hard work of the many women who give so much of themselves. The following questions and answers reflect Vickie’s faith, commitment and dedication to her role within The Women’s Guild.

CL: What made you decide to serve/volunteer?
VG: I have been involved in volunteer work almost all my life. It comes from the home. My grandmother and mother always opened their home to the poor even though there were times we were the poor ones! I became more involved in St. John because of the people and how the parish is run by Fr. Bob, who makes it very easy for volunteers. I feel I want to contribute in this life to make life better for others. I volunteer my services to other organizations as well, such as St. Martin de Porres which I helped create from the beginning. My daughter and her sons are volunteers as well in church and in St. Martin’s. Like I said, it comes from the home.

CL: How long have you been president?
VG: I have served on the WG Board for almost four years. At first Linda Sayres was president, but a few months after we took office, I took over when she had a kidney replacement. She then resigned from the Board for personal reasons. My term ends next May 2017 after serving 4 years. Being President is a full time job and I give it 100%. I am fortunate to have a good Board to work with: Barbara Artale, VP, Carolyn Hartman, Secretary and Arlene Carlo, Treasurer.

CL: How do you support Fr. Bob with your mission?
VG: We are always supportive of Fr. Bob in whatever he needs us to do. We look to him as our leader in this Parish and try to follow his leadership in serving the poor, and others in need. He has a servant’s heart and so do we. Together we reach out to our community and help where needed. We are fortunate to have a Pastor who allows us the freedom to do our work in serving this community. Right now we are focused on raising funds for the Capital Campaign and we just donated approximately $17,627.58 to that cause.

CL: What would you tell someone who is interesting in volunteering?
VG: Volunteering is a rewarding experience. What is better in life than to help someone else. We do so much in the Guild to help others as you can see from our Snapshot. Money for sneakers, food, funds for Lifeline & Verity, Funeral Receptions, food for St.. Martin’s, etc. I call the Women’s Guild women “angels of the Guild”.

CL: What upcoming events do you have planned?
VG: Upcoming events are the Holiday Rectory Party December 9th, the Fashion Show March 18th, and a cruise in September 2017. Then there’s everything else that pops up in between: we are a busy bunch! Below is a snapshot of our activities. I would like our Parishioners to know what our activities are, how much we raised, and where it went. I would also like to welcome them to join us, we are always looking for new volunteers who want to help others, and have fun doing it!

Oct. 23rd, 2016 | The 23rd Times

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A Spiritual Solution Until a Medical One Arrives

By Damian Hanley

…In sickness and in health, till death do us part. When we hear those words, we immediately picture a young couple facing each other at an altar, about to take the most meaningful vows of their lives. And they mean it. It’s a black and white agreement. You are my responsibility until you or I perish. Healthy, happy marriages are one of the few institutions that, when we see that two people have it, it renews our faith. But what happens when the death of the mind precedes the death of the body?

Is this still the same person to whom you made vows? It is… and it isn’t. It is in the sense that their physical body has held continuity through time and space, but it isn’t if you’ve ever watched a loved one go through it. I have. I venture to guess many who read this have. Much unlike your vows, it is not a black and white process. It begins subtly, and ends… as American novelist Philip M. Roth attests, “old age isn’t a battle: old age is a massacre.” No matter how it’s caused, how it begins or ends, Alzheimer’s and dementia, and their many variants, are tragic.

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If you’ve been with your spouse long enough to witness them diagnosed with memory loss disease, then your love is sturdy. This is not someone you’d abandon because of some garden variety tough times. This is someone who you would die for, but alas, they need more than that now.

When your spouse is diagnosed with memory loss disease, and you are called to become their caregiver, more will be asked of you than you’d ever thought possible. They will become the most vulnerable version of themselves right before your eyes, until the day they no longer remember your name, let alone recognize your face.

And you are a good person. You fear God and take vows seriously. You weren’t prepared for this but knew it was in the realm of possibility. Becoming a caregiver to someone with memory loss disease has unique spiritual and ethical components. How good of a person are you? How patient are you? How deep is your faith? Do you really trust God?

Thousands of people in Southwest Florida find themselves asking these questions. Mary Freyre of the Alvin A. Dubin Alzheimer’s Resource Center wants to help answer them. “We typically get calls when people are in crisis. They say ‘I need help. I need help, now. What can I do?’ And then we start connecting them with resources and people in the community – neuropsychologists, neurologists, other family doctors. If they need a home health agency or respite care, we can help them find that.”

Mary is the Health Education Specialist for the Dubin Center – a community resource that is free to caregivers which was founded in 1995. “When someone finds out that their spouse has been diagnosed, they go through a tremendous amount of grief and loss. We call this anticipatory grief. We try to explain the process they’ll go through, but more than that, we try to get them into support groups.”

As an Education Specialist, Mary finds that a lot of the caregivers think they have to carry this burden on their shoulders by themselves. Nothing could be further from the truth (unless you watch the news). “There is a ton of support out there. In these groups, the caregivers form some really tight-knit friendships. It’s a safe place where they can talk about what they’re going through.”

This is not an uncommon example, but imagine if you’ve just retired and you expect to spend the remainder of your life traveling and enjoying life. Or imagine if you’re a husband and wife taking care of a parent with dementia, and you also have three kids in your home. Memory loss disease can affect the entire family, and it affects each person differently. This is how anticipatory grief can become overwhelming. (Anticipatory grief refers to a grief reaction that occurs before an impending loss. Typically, the impending loss is a death of someone close due to illness but it can also be experienced by dying individuals themselves.)

In reference to the title of this article, the Dubin Center is offering a new program whose origin came in the form of a promise to Mary’s uncle. Before his diagnosis, Mary’s uncle was a pastor of a large Protestant church in New Jersey. Seven years before his passing, during the early stages of his dementia, “he said to me, Mary, you’re a nurse, please be a voice for us. He had to give up ministering, he had to give up home visits, he had to eventually give up going to church. People stopped visiting. Even the other pastors stopped visiting. It was a very lonely and painful time for them.”

Two years ago, Mary got to work on the Dementia Friendly Houses of Worship Initiative. She mobilized a handful of organizations, among them the Lee County Sheriff Department, Dr. Mable Lopez of Mind & Brain Care of Fort Myers, Comfort Keepers Home Health, Right at Home, Shell Point Retirement Community, and Choices in Living Adult Day Care of Cape Coral.

These organizations came together and reached out to local churches with the understanding that most churches do not offer an AD friendly service, or resources for caregivers who generally cannot leave the house to attend a service.

“Many churches have a separate portion of the service geared towards the needs of children. We would help train churches and assist in designing a program or service geared towards the needs of AD patients. This would get them out of the house and give the caregivers a respite. We leave it up to the churches to customize each initiative around their particular denomination.”

But how big of an issue is this really? It’s huge. According to the Florida Department of Elder Affairs, there are close to 21,000 people diagnosed with AD in Lee County. The Alzheimer’s Association reports there are about 450,000 people currently in Florida with AD, and that number will increase to roughly 750,000 by 2050 if no cure is discovered. Those do not include the seasonal residents or the undiagnosed. Every 67 seconds someone in the US is diagnosed with memory loss disease, and by 2050 that rate will increase to every 33 seconds unless there is a cure. There are about 5.4 million Americans with memory loss disease, and by 2050 that number could be between 13-16 million, barring no cure. Millions of caregivers will need help.

Mary says, “Now do you see why I started this initiative? We offer one-on-one counseling with licensed clinical social workers, education, a safety program, a wanderer’s ID program, home visits, office visits, networking with other community agencies to help the families in coping with the disease. We also offer open support groups for caregivers caring for someone with dementia. The Center also offers a free evidence-based course to help teach the caregivers on how to improve the quality of life for their loved one with dementia and for themselves. All of the Dubin Center’s services are free.”

Individuals and families living with Alzheimer’s and Dementia will face many decisions throughout the course of the disease including decisions about care, treatment, participation in research, end-of-life issues, autonomy and safety.

Oct. 16th, 2016 | The 23rd Times

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Marietta Jaeger to speak October 18th

From Fury to Forgiveness

By Damian Hanley

We like to simplify complex things. Over-simplification keeps our thinking tidy, and preserves our mental energy in a world of infinite information and decision making. It is the basis of all the Dr. Oz pseudoscience that we relish in. Coffee is bad. Wine is good! Chocolate is really good. We like it because morality is complicated and we are lazy. That guy who cheated on his wife is evil. That woman who is smacking her kid in the checkout line at Publix is a lunatic. This driver in front of me should be taken out of his car and beaten with a rubber hose. The Death Penalty is merely an eye-for-an-eye consequence of a criminal act that cannot be forgiven.

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All of us at one point have justified it in our heads – at least for a minute. An attorney once described to me the point system used to determine a person’s eligibility for capital punishment, which is tallied based on the nature of the crime. Did it include kidnapping, torture, a minor..? By the end of the explanation, I admit, I was a bit swayed. My mind hadn’t gone there, but if someone had tortured and brutally killed an immediate family member, I started thinking I’d like to be the one to throw the switch.

marietta2

Casting judgment is a tool that has been sharpened in an attempt to preserve our lives by our homo sapient brain for the past 200,000 years. We used to really need that tool when we were fending for ourselves in the wild, running down our prey with spear in hand, engaging in fist fights with saber tooth cats and such. But alas, a Man showed up 2000 years ago and taught us a better way to live – which is why you picked up this bulletin.

A millennium and a half prior to Christ, God gave us the 10 Commandments. You’d think #5 on the list would have closed the book on the debate over the death penalty, but it hasn’t – not even among Catholics. In this state, we put people to death for crimes other than murder, but considering the Colony of New York’s “Duke’s Laws of 1665” dictated that offenses such as striking one’s mother or father, or denying the “true God” were punishable by death – we’ve made a little progress.

The death penalty has been around for all of recorded history, but in the United States, about 13,000 people have been legally executed since colonial times. Texas leads the way. In 1972 the Supreme Court actually abolished capital punishment. It held the death penalty as “cruel and unusual” and violated the Eighth Amendment. It was reinstated four years later.

Our culture’s relationship with the death penalty has been mixed. Our faith’s has not. Setting aside our commandment not to kill (over-simplified for a reason), there are a few very good reasons we, as Catholics, are obligated to oppose the death penalty.

Proponents of capital punishment cite it as a deterrent to crime. That is trite, but more than that, it cheapens life. Everyone can agree that human life is valuable, but the Catholic’s pro-life stance asserts that life is so valuable that no one, under any circumstance should be denied it.

“Even when people deny the dignity of others, we must still recognize that their dignity is a gift from God and is not something that is earned or lost through their behavior. Respect for life applies to all, even the perpetrators of terrible acts. Punishment should be consistent with the demands of justice and with respect for human life and dignity,” as stated in the USCCB’s A Culture of Life and the Penalty of Death.

Amnesty International’s appeal to our philosophical side is not purely theoretical either. “The death penalty legitimizes an irreversible act of violence by the state and will inevitably claim innocent victims. As long as human justice remains fallible, the risk of executing the innocent can never be eliminated.”

From the Death Penalty Information Center’s website: On September 2, 2014, Leon Brown and Henry McCollum were exonerated and released from prison in North Carolina. The two African American men, who are half-brothers, had been convicted of the rape and murder of an 11-year-old girl and sentenced to death in 1984. Brown was 15 at the time of the crime and McCollum was 19. Both men have intellectual disabilities and were interrogated under duress until they confessed to the crime. In 2010, Brown turned to the North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission for help. The Commission tested DNA evidence from the crime scene, which implicated a man who was convicted of a similar crime. Robeson County Judge Douglas Sasser vacated the men’s convictions and said the evidence indicated their innocence. District Attorney Johnson Britt supported their release and said no further charges will be brought against them.

How does one recover from that type of injustice? Were the authorities and families of the victim blind with rage when they ran their investigation? You bet they were. That girl’s parents didn’t want justice, they wanted revenge. And who could deny them that?

How would those two men forgive the courts? How would the authorities forgive themselves after stealing three decades’ worth of freedom from Brown and McCollum? Is it even possible to emotionally and spiritually overcome tragedy like this?

It is, and we’re going to show you how. On Tuesday, October 18th from 9am-10:30 and 6pm-7:30pm, – two days from now – St. John XXIII will host a speaker named Marietta Jaeger. “I have my degree from the school of hard knocks,” and her PhD in forgiveness.

Marietta’s experience is every parent’s worst nightmare. I promised not to divulge the details of her story, but imagine the worst possible act being committed against your 7-year-old daughter, and then imagining the other worst things also happening.

Marietta’s story will stretch your imagination to its boundaries of pain and suffering. She’s traveled the world for the past 40 years, speaking to audiences about the importance of developing our ability to forgive.

She spent ten years speaking at a rehabilitation facility for clergy. She’s been interviewed in Rome by the Vatican Radio three times, and testified to the United Nations Human Rights Commission in Geneva, Switzerland. Marietta has worked with teen gangs in Peru and given many retreats across the country, including one in India for recovering alcoholic Catholic clergy.

On her own accord, she lived in Nicaragua during the Contra War researching forgiveness, only to discover that her own country had been spreading misinformation in the domestic media on the motives and nature of the conflict. That’s worth repeating. She moved to a country during a violent civil war to learn how the most marginalized and defenseless citizens were coping. Who among us today would move to Afghanistan, learn the language, and then live among the mountain-dwelling civilians to research their ability to forgive their enemies for the constant occupation, drone strikes and bombing?

“I went to Nicaragua to find out what was really going on with the campesinos,” Marietta shares. “How were they able to maintain a spirit of forgiveness during a period of daily occupation? This was an occupation of violence. Life was being taken every day.”

After the crime that took her daughter and changed her life, she spent two weeks wrestling with God, blinded by fury. She’d come from a background of strong faith, instilled in her by her parents and an influential nun, Sister Mary Columkille of Galway County, Ireland.

“She taught me not to be daunted by the division between the clergy and the people of the Church. She taught me this pre-Vatican II, so she was ahead of her time. She was quite progressive.”

She’s taken the pain from her experience and spun it into a ministry that serves the most forgotten and disenfranchised in our world. Who really has compassion for those serving a life sentence for murder? Everyone remembers the feelings and emotions that surround a trauma. We remember when life as we knew it was over. Things were not the same.

Marietta has taken this experience, and in it, she’s found her place in the world. This is the alchemy to which we’re called by Christ. Love is an action, and when we’re told to love our enemies, this is what that looks like.

“Jesus taught in parables, so I try to share my story with as many people as possible to give them hope. Forgiveness is a process. It doesn’t just happen and then it’s over. We have to live with a heart of forgivness. We have to maintain it.”

“If God can help me get through such a horrible situation, He can help anyone.” Our faith gives us the freedom to love those that our secularized world would have us hate. Come listen to her story. Be moved by it, and learn why capital punishment can never be an acceptable solution to our broken heart.

Oct. 2nd, 2016 | The 23rd Times

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Moved by Mercy: Respect Life Sunday

What is Respect Life? The Respect Life Program, sponsored by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, started in 1972 and begins anew each October-the month set aside by the U.S. bishops as “Respect Life Month”.

We observe Sunday, October 2nd as Respect Life Sunday.

The program promotes respect for human life in the light of our intrinsic dignity as having been created in God’s image and likeness and called to an eternal destiny with him.

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Who is involved with Respect Life? The Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities, under the guidance and direction of the Committee on Pro-Life Activities, works to teach respect for all human life from conception to natural death, and organize for its protection.

What is the goal of the program? Below are examples of how the committee serves with the following goals”

  • Develop educational material on pro-life issues.
  • Conduct educational campaigns in the Church such as: Respect Life Program and People of Life Action Campaign.
  • Circulate fact sheets and other information on critical issues.
  • Encourage and enable programs to meet the needs of pregnant women, children, persons with disabilities, those who are sick or dying, and all who have been involved in abortion.
  • Assist dioceses to implement major pro-life programs.

The current Committee serves from November 2015 to November 2018 and is chaired by Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York.

“We proclaim that human life is a precious gift from God; that each person who receives this gift has responsibilities toward God, self and others; and that society, through its laws and social institutions, must protect and nurture human life at every stage of its existence.” – U.S. Catholic Bishops, Pastoral Plan for Pro-Life Activities

Ways To Support Her When She’s Unexpectedly Expecting:

An unexpected pregnancy might be confusing along the way, but life at times is difficult but ultimately beautiful. Perhaps you know someone who has become pregnant unexpectedly. You want support anyone on the journey of being a mother. Not sure how to do? Here are some tips:

Be Available: An unexpected pregnancy can send a woman into crisis mode. If you just found out she is pregnant, she may not be thinking clearly, and she may feel she has no control over anything at the moment. Listen to her and let her know you love her and are there for her any time she needs you. Don’t pass judgment on her either interiorly or through words or body language.

Respond Positively: When a woman experiences challenging circumstances and confides she is pregnant, the reaction of the first person she tells tends to set the tone for her decision-making. Avoid responding with shock or alarm, and be calm and understanding.

Be Honest: The journey through an unexpected pregnancy is not easy, and it’s okay if you don’t know the perfect words to say. Just be honest. Let her know you are there for her, and ask her how she is feeling and how you can support her. It’s a good way to open the door to communicate, and she may be grateful for the opportunity to talk freely with someone.

Offer Specific Help: Don’t be afraid to ask her if she needs help with anything or to make specific offers to help. For example, you might offer to help with cleaning, finding a good doctor, or running to the store to pick up the one food that won’t make her feel sick. But remember to read her cues, and make sure you’re not being overbearing.

Set up a Support System: In addition to the standard baby registry, you can help her get other kinds of support by lining up much-needed, practical help. Take advantage of websites that allow friends and family to sign up to make meals, send food deliveries, or simply donate money. You can also look into what programs and assistance may be sponsored by your local diocesan pastoral care or Respect Life offices.

Tell Her She is Beautiful: She may be feeling physically, spiritually, and emotionally drained with this pregnancy. Take the time to reassure her of her beauty, both inside and out, especially when morning sickness might make her feel otherwise.

Help Her Recharge & Relax: First-time mothers may have difficulty crossing that threshold into their new life as a mother. She may be fearful that her life is “over,” so help her see it’s okay and to still focus on herself sometimes. Even though she is a mother, she will still continue to be a woman, so affirm that it’s healthy and important to take care of herself.

Reassure Her it’s Okay & Good to Be Happy: It can be hard to be happy about a pregnancy that many people see as unfortunate timing at best and totally irresponsible at worst. Even if your friend wants to be happy about her bundle of joy, she may not feel she “deserves” to show that happiness. Get excited about her pregnancy in front of her, and she may just feel comfortable enough to share her own excitement with you.

Encourage Her: Society tends to focus on ways that an unexpected pregnancy can be challenging. Help her think of the benefits. Remind her of the fluttering kicks, somersaults, and maybe even dance moves her son or daughter will be rocking once they grow a little more. With moms’ groups and opportunities for play dates, there’s a whole new social world to explore.

Point out Real-Life Role Models: Many amazing young mothers and birthmothers have experienced unexpected pregnancies and still followed their dreams. Other women have discovered that, even when unable to follow their lives as planned, something beautiful and good came out of the twists in the road, bringing opportunities, growth, and joy they hadn’t imagined. And let’s not forget Mary, whose “yes” to bearing Jesus affected the course of history. The Blessed Mother is a great person to pour her heart out to, and she’s a powerhouse of intercessory prayer.

For More Information Visit The United States of Catholic Bishops at: www.usccb.org

Sept. 25th, 2016 | The 23rd Times

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Fight Complacency with Cursillo! Christ is calling you

By Damian Hanley

It is very, very difficult to achieve a state of perfect stagnation. And, so it is with our faith. The maxim goes something like: We can only live in faith or fear. When we’re living in one, the other is necessarily absent. By living in faith, we trust God. Gratitude is in our hearts. We are effective in our jobs, in our homes, and in the lives of friends. We are present.

When we live in a state of fear, our hearts are closed, we are selfish, mean-spirited and we isolate. We are moving away from God when we live in fear. On an esoteric level, fear is the liar that tells us we are doomed to a life of misery and meaninglessness. And on a pragmatic level, fear makes us hard to be around.

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And, so we must look for opportunities to grow in our faith so that we can grow closer to Christ, and then ideally, become better at giving and receiving love. Cursillo is one such opportunity.

You may have heard of Cursillo before, but if you haven’t, it is a three-day retreat experience, which takes a New Testament look at Christianity as a lifestyle. It is a highly structured weekend designed to strengthen and renew your faith, and in turn, help strengthen and renew the faith of your family, Church and environment.

From the Cursillo website: Cursillo (pronounced “kur-see-yoh”) is a Spanish term which means “short course in Christianity”. It is a combined effort of laity and clergy toward the renewal of the Church. Cursillo is an encounter with Christ that encourages growth in grace and intensifies the Catholic Christian’s ability to be His witness in the world. This encounter strengthens faith, promotes personal holiness and assists Christians in discovering their personal vocation.

Cursillo originated in Majorca, Spain in the 1940’s. Eduardo Bonnin and his companions developed the Cursillo Method while attempting to train others for a pilgrimage to the Shrine of St James at Compostela. This first effort produced such a profound effect that the group began holding three-day “short courses” and soon the method was accepted officially by the Church. The first Cursillo in North America was in Waco, Texas in 1959.

Cursillo is supported by the Roman Catholic Church. It is joined to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops through an official liaison in the person of Bishop Emeritus Carlos A. Sevilla S.J. from the Diocese of Yakima, and through the Bishops’ Secretariat for the Laity in Washington, D.C. The spiritual advisor for the movement in the United States is Rev. Alex Waraksa from the Diocese of Knoxville, TN.

“It’s really a great chance to get away from the ‘rat race’ and spend some time learning about the Catholic faith and God’s incredible love for you,” shares Kelly Mamott. She and her husband, Tom, are parishioners at St Katharine Drexel Parish, in Cape Coral. “It is wisely recommended that spouses experience the Cursillo weekend in the same year. It was wonderful to share this experience as a married couple. Not only did Cursillo help my faith, but our marriage has been enriched too.”

Marriage is work, and the Mamott’s have four children. It would be easy for them to fabricate an excuse for avoiding a 72-hour weekend. But they recognize that life and spirituality is a constant process of course correction. The quality of our relationships is a function of our ability to emulate Christ in our interaction with other people. In the minutia of daily life, it’s easy to lose track of the bigger picture – which is to become more loving people.

Sometimes we fall into the trap of thinking our job is to make money, provide for our family and stay out of trouble. The rest of our time should be spent watching pro athletes do things we would do if God really answered prayers. We want to live this one-dimensional life because the older we get, the better we get at it. By default, life keeps getting easier if these are our goals. But alas, these should not be our goals. We get complacent. We stagnate, and inevitably, fear creeps into our lives. If our focus is only on the material side of life, we will always be disappointed. We need regular reminders that serving God first is not an arbitrary suggestion.

“I was looking for a group of men that was more than just a social gathering. I was looking for a group of men interested in growing in their faith and sharing,” Tom shares. “My Pastor suggested making a Cursillo weekend since they have small group meetings after the weekend.”

See? We crave connection with other people on a spiritual level. If Tom had made a lifelong habit of ensuring his spiritual needs were met, he would have never gone looking for Cursillo. That doesn’t make him a bad person. It makes him human. We all slip. We all need to refocus our priorities. What Tom was feeling wasn’t irregular. We’ve all felt it.

How many times in our adult lives have we found ourselves participating with minimal effort and motivation, experiencing a general, vague malaise that you can’t really put into words? There is something missing.

Well, practicing Catholicism demands that you are shaken from your lethargy, and Cursillo can do this for you. There is an excitement that can be found in shifting one’s primary mindset from a fear-based existence to a faith-based life. Once your frame of reference shifts, the spirit in which you engage in life is altered dramatically.

Was it worth it? “The Cursillo weekend really got me excited about my Catholic faith and opened my understanding of Christian community,” Tom continues. “Cursillo helps me strive to be closer to Christ. I can witness to my faith through normal everyday encounters with people.”

And isn’t that what living your faith is all about? Show me someone that hides their Catholicism and I’ll show you a person that merely lacks the right education. Being prepared to deploy and defend the principles of our faith is synonymous with upholding the dignity of life.

The more time that passes in our lives, the more God expects from us. The more people He puts in our lives (children especially), the more responsible we are to being there for these people. So if we are not actively looking for ways to expand our spiritual capacity, we are losing ground. We are living in fear if we are resting on our laurels.

This is the role that Cursillo will play in your life. You don’t need to be married to participate, but you do need to be sponsored. Find out more at www.JesusInFlorida.com (I bet you’re a little surprised at that domain name).

If you’ve been lax in your spiritual development, it’s okay. You’re human. If you’ve been lax, and you’ve ignored this fact for the last decade, that’s not okay, and you need Cursillo more than you think. But seriously, complacency is a spirit killer. Take the action today and find a sponsor.

PLEASE SEE PAGE 10 of the Bulletin:

For more information regarding weekends available and Cursillo representatives.

Sept. 18th, 2016 | The 23rd Times

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Chris Biel & Lois Kittenplan Reflect on Catechetical Sunday

By Damian Hanley

“The world is a better place to live in because it contains human beings who will give up ease and security and stake their own lives in order to do what they themselves think worth doing.”

Teaching is difficult. Teaching The Faith amidst a culture that is bound and determined to undermine our beliefs at every turn is noteworthy. Teaching The Faith to young people in a way that makes it relevant and fun? That deserves a day of recognition! And so here we are on Catechetical Sunday.

The third Sunday of September in the United States is celebrated as Catechetical Sunday in order to acknowledge, appreciate and celebrate those who are catechists. In his encyclical letter Redemptoris Missio Pope John Paul II, says: “Among the laity who become evangelizers, catechists have a place of honor…Catechists are among those who have received Christ’s command to ‘go and teach all nations’” (Guide for Catechists, 33).

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“Catechists have a special calling in the Church,” says Chris Biel, Director of Religious Education. “It’s not something you just show up to, and read from a book. These are volunteers who prayerfully prepare, research and then transmit the message in a way in a way that brings the faith to the children. We have children of different ages, backgrounds, and many of our students have special needs. Because we believe that we are all children of God, we accommodate everyone’s needs. We don’t turn people away.”

Today we’re celebrating everyone in our Parish that is involved in the formation of people of all ages. St. John XXIII offers educational programs for everyone no matter what stage of life they are in. “We should never stop learning and growing in our faith,” Chris shares. “As parents prepare to baptize their child, they attend classes. They need to know that in baptizing their child, they are making a commitment to raise their child in the Faith… really throughout their entire lives.”

In forming a child’s faith and specifically Sacrament Preparation, there are three distinct elements, which are essential parts. Two of these agents, the family and the parish community, remain the same. The third element is a specific immediate preparation process in which the families and the parish will be in a strong partnership.

But it’s worth it. Every Catechist has their favorite moment when effort comes to fruition. “First Holy Communion,” says Chris. “I’ve known some of these children since they were baptized. But when it comes to that day – it’s such a transformation. Some days at class the children can seem disengaged or a little fidgety. This is understandable. Most of them have been at school all day and when Wednesday night rolls around, they’re tired. But something happens on that day. God puts His hand on their little heads and they have peace about them. They realized how special the day really is.”

For Lois Kittenplan, the classroom is a bit different. Middle school and high school-aged children present their own challenges.

“The biggest difference? Mostly attention span,” Lois admits. “Our culture is such that instant gratification is the rule, not the exception. And in a way, that reality has changed things when teaching God’s Word. Our lessons have to be short and engaging. The message has to be relevant. There are no more lectures. Our youth group volunteers are not just there to hand out pencils. The facilitate and engage.”

Lois’s Catechists are engaged. They are present because the activities, by necessity, are hands on. There is energy and excitement in the room. Rather than resent the changing of the times, the Catechists must embrace it, accept it, and adapt in a way so as not to dilute the message.

“They’ve been in school all day – they’re tired and hungry. So, in that hour of time, we have focus on one or two things that we can get across to them,” Chris adds. “How can we get them to know the love of Jesus?”

Some things never change.

Lois’s team is in the middle of an 8-week character building study. In it, they’ve chosen a list of relatable contemporary movies – The Pursuit of Happyness, Courageous, Soul Surfer, Facing the Giants, Seabiscuit, etcetera, and they show short clips of these movies that relate to human nature as well Bible figures and their associated character traits – integrity, self-discipline, compassion, a teachable spirit, courage, faith, joy and a servant’s heart.

“We show the clip and have a discussion about how they themselves can relate to it, and take it home with them,” Lois shares. “And you’d be surprised how effective it is. There’s no writing, no homework, no lecturing. Just a discussion about how the challenges in the Bible relate to what’s going on today, not only in their lives, but in the world around them… And I’m teaching the young adults the same way. The Bible and it’s repetitive cycle is the history of us.”

And isn’t that true? Human beings are dealing with the same exact things today that they were 2000+ years ago.

What went on back in Genesis and Exodus, is going on today – human trafficking, slavery, and of course, idolatry. Who among us doesn’t fall victim to some form of idolatry? This is the basic source of all discontent. Not believing who we are and what we have is enough to sustain our happiness.

And so being a teacher of the faith has never been so important as it is now. These Catechists are not merely teaching the truths of the Catholic faith, they are transmitting the key to living a joyful and meaningful life.

What is more important than that? The message might be packaged a little differently, but the truth remains the same. Technology has made sin more accessible and more apparent to those attempting to thwart it, but it is also enabling Catechists to teach more effectively so that students can build a stronger foundation in their faith.

“A strong foundation is what will carry them through the various crises in their lives,” Lois concludes. “We start from the base, when they’re young, but no matter how young or old a person is, we can instill in them what it means to trust God and channel His love towards others.”

We owe our Catechists a debt of gratitude. School may teach them math, science and history, but they teach the meaning of life, and how to live it. They make it fun and engaging – the vast majority of them are unpaid – and so the least we can do is say thank you. Your time is well spent. This is a job that is most certainly worth doing.

August 7th, 2016 | The 23rd Times

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Intro to Colleen Leavy 101

A new chapter begins in the life of the St. John XXIII Pastoral Team with Colleen Leavy – our new bulletin editor. A true rock star from a small town in Massachusetts, she sat down with me and talked about life as a kid, growing up the youngest of three girls and how she found her balance through design and using her creative gifts. Check out this interview and when you see her, welcome her to our Parish family.

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DH: Where are you from and what was life like as a kid?
CL: I was born in the small town of Pittsfield, Massachusetts and I’m the youngest of three sisters. Being the youngest, yes, I was spoiled a bit. But my sisters and I got along really well. I was a late surprise. My older sister is 10 years older than me so she was more like a mother figure.

DH: What ethnicity were your parents?
CL: Typical Irish/Italians from the Northeast. There are millions of us running around. We favored more the Italian side of our ethnicity. The cooking and family gatherings were all typically Italian. My parents were born and raised and never moved from Pittsfield. My parents were the first to inter-mingle the Irish and Italians, so it was super scandalous!

DH: Have any hobbies as a kid?
CL: My sisters were in college when I was very young, and there weren’t too many kids in my neighborhood, so I learned to entertain myself. I got into performing and writing music. I knew that’s what I wanted to do. So I was alone a lot, but that gave me the opportunity to hone my talent. I performed in, and won various contests in my local area, but it wasn’t until I was in my 20’s that I actually sang in a band. That was in Albany.

DH: So you moved to Albany?
CL: It might as well have been New York City in comparison to Pittsfield being such a small town. I was able to spread my wings when I started collaborating with other people and performing in a band.

DH: What kind of music do you perform?
CL: Dance/Rock n’ Roll… anything from Elvis to Pink. I was more into pop when I was a kid. But when I started in the band, the other members said “You could sound like Janis (Joplin), you know her right?” I was more into dance music, but they really introduced me to classic rock.

DH: So you went to college in Albany?
CL: Yes, I went to the College of St. Rose, for graphic design. Design exposed me to marketing and advertising.

DH: So that was a Catholic school… Did you go to Catholic school in grade or high school?
CL: All of it. Sacred Heart. St. Marks. St. Joseph – you name it, ha! The nuns taught us. They were quite strict. We wore uniforms, but I always accessorized with some striped socks. I knew I was going to be different. We just really didn’t know any better in a small town.

DH: What kind of student were you in high school? Book worm? Rebel?
CL: I was a little rebellious, but not crazy. I was searching for a creative outlet, and they really didn’t have anything back then for people like me. I had to struggle for years to figure out who I was and what I wanted from life. Kids these days have so much at their disposal. They have access to everything. They don’t realize how good they have it.

DH: Then you went to College of St. Rose?
CL: It was a breath of fresh air. I was exposed to so many different kinds of people and I could really find my way. College also exposed me to different experiences and subjects. I always knew I wanted to do something creative. The art department had its own building and there were creative people like me everywhere!

DH: So after college…
CL: I met my soulmate Nick, my guitarist, doing karaoke. I was singing “Love will Lead You Back” and he liked what he heard. We performed in a bunch of clubs and venues, and did some touring in other states. And that was the beginning of my band, Electric Lipstick.

DH: How did you get down to Florida?
CL: Nick, the guitar player had an opportunity down here, and there were a lot of different factors that played into it. Basically, we wanted to be in nicer weather (I mean, it was upstate New York) and we found a dream home down here. Unless you have millions of dollars, you’re not getting a house with a yard in the city of Albany. It’s bigger than you’d think up there.

DH: Yes, everyone has this idea of Albany: that it’s this small town (at least I do). So what do you want to bring to this position? It’s obvious you have the graphics skills…
CL: I left my last job doing graphics in February, so I haven’t been doing design work for a few months. I play a LOT of music. My band is booking 10-12 gigs per month, but I think I need to have both art and music in my life. I feel like it makes me a complete person. With my design experience, I hope to bring the bulletin, the other marketing collateral and the communications in general to the next level. I really love to design, so this is going to be fun for me.

DH: Ah, yes, so you need design as a balancing component of your life?
CL: Yes, and music makes me feel alive. I love to make people feel something with my music. When people come away from my shows and they’ve been touched – like, emotionally, it reinforces that this is what I’m put on this earth to do.

DH: Well it’s been great to get to know you a little and we look forward to seeing your work being done in the name of Christ. Thank you for your time and welcome to the family.
CL: Thanks! I would love to meet parishioners at one of my shows. Check out my band at:
www.electriclipstick.com

June 26th, 2016 | The 23rd Times

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Real Men DO Thrift

By Danielle O’Brien

The St. John XXIII Thrift Store has grown in leaps and bounds since it’s renovation in 2010. The store’s great success in contributing tens of thousands of dollars to students’ Catholic Education is largely because of the efforts of the store’s staff, volunteers and donors.

The volunteers who work at the St. John XXIII Thrift Store (Yes, volunteers- they don’t get paid) have played a vital role in that growth. They are the smiling faces the customers see when they walk into the store and their hands (and muscles) are what load the sold items into customers’ vehicles. When the lifting gets too heavy, or when a furniture piece needs to be moved or refinished, the men who volunteer answer that call.

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Their hard work is simply invaluable.

And while St. John XXIII Thrift Store is fortunate to have the man-power it does today, that doesn’t mean the store couldn’t use a few more hands. Not sure what that entails? Parishioner and Thrift Store Volunteer, Guy Fragnoli will show you the way.

Danielle O’Brien: Tell us a little bit about how you got involved with volunteering at the St. John XXIII Thrift Store.

Guy Fragnoli: We’ve lived in the area for almost five years now. We’ve lived all over the country and had always been active in the Catholic Community. When we moved to Fort Myers, I was retired and I wanted something to keep me occupied, so I thought- volunteering. I saw an announcement in the St. John XXIII bulletin that the St. John XXIII Thrift Store was looking for volunteers. I inquired and now my wife and I have been there for three years. I love it! It’s been great.

DOB: How often do you volunteer at the St. John XXIII Thrift Store and what are some tasks you do during your shift?

GF: I work two four-hour shifts a week: Monday mornings and Wednesday afternoons. I have a variety of duties at the store, which I like because I’m not doing just one thing during my shift. During my volunteer hours, I work the cash register and use my man power to assist with loading and unloading items into and out of cars. I’ll also help with arranging furniture. In addition, I’m responsible for updating the Craigslist items.

DOB: What surprised you about volunteering at the St. John XXIII Thrift Store?

GF: I thought it would be very regimented. I thought there wouldn’t be much flexibility. And while I wasn’t looking to have a grand ol’ time, I was hoping that I could establish some relationships with some people. To my surprise and comfort, I quickly learned the Thrift Store is very flexible. My wife also works on Wednesday afternoons. On Wednesdays during season, a group of volunteers get together and go out to dinner. So in return, we’ve gotten some really great relationships through volunteering our time.

DOB: Do you think it takes a lot of knowledge about miscellaneous products in order to work at the thrift store?

GF: Normally, I’ll arrive for my shift about 20 minutes early to do a store walk-through just to see what the store has on the floor and what has been sold since my last shift. I’ll make a mental note for when customers come in or call. I also look for what items may be worth listing on Craigslist.

DOB: You sound like a retail expert! What is your background?

GF: Actually, not retail! I was the Logistics Director for Kodak out of Rochester, NY. I managed all the warehousing, transportation and customer service operations for the U.S. and Canada. So, I guess I have a lot of experience in people interaction and customer service. In return, that has been a big benefit as I work with both volunteers and customers at the St. John XXIII Thrift Store.

DOB: Some may say that thrift store shopping and working at a thrift store may be a ‘woman thing’. Do you disagree?

GF: Sometimes customers are a little surprised to see me working, but I think they appreciate seeing both men and women volunteering at the St. John XXIII Thrift Store. We have a good group of men who work at the store and the women volunteers really appreciate having us around to help with the heavy-lifting and other tasks. We even have a gentleman who refinishes the furniture we get in. Sometimes, what we receive may need a little work and this particular volunteer has the furniture looking brand new by time he’s finished with the piece. We also have another gentleman who is really good at electrical work, so if something like a television is donated, but needs a minor repair before we can sell it, he will fix it. There are so many opportinities to volunteer at the Thrift Store.

Would you like to volunteer at the thrift store? Contact the Parish Office at 239-561-2245 to begin the volunteer process. Already a St. John XXIII volunteer? Contact Cynthia at: john23thrift@gmail.com Want to check out the St. John XXIII Thrift Store?

St. John XXIII Thrift Store is located at:
15200 South Tamiami Trail #110
Fort Myers, 33908
Monday – Saturday 9:00am-5:00pm

June 12th, 2016 | The 23rd Times

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Passing the Torch

By: Danielle O’Brien

For the past 10 years, parishioner Barbara Catineau has taken on the RCIA (Right of Christian Initiation of Adults) by the horns and has grown the program at St. John XXIII in leaps and bounds.

Barbara is known for her kind heart, motherly spirit and great wisdom of the Bible and the Catholic faith. Being a listener of God’s voice, she is stepping down from her role as ministry leader and passing the torch on to a team of volunteers who will continue to build on an already successful ministry.

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This weekend Barbara was honored for her decade of commitment to RCIA. Her time and talent has been invaluable to the parish, and most importantly those who entered into the Catholic Faith. Before you read about Barbara’s journey and how the program will move forward, here’s what a few RCIA “graduates” had to say about her:

“I met Barbara when a friend took me to a Bible study Barbara was holding in her home. She immediately made an impression on me. Sometime later, when I decided I wanted to become a Catholic, there she was waiting to guide me through RCIA. I want what that woman has, I thought.
Barbara exudes a quiet joy that comes from her close relationship with Jesus. ‘Feel the love’ is an old hippie expression that truly describes being in the same room with Barbara. There is no question that she thoroughly loves us all and she goes about her work with a joy and enthusiasm that comes from her heart. Thank you, Barbara, for all your help and encouragement as I prepared to become Catholic. Your example reassured me that I was making the right choice and thank you too for being a wonderful friend. It’s a friendship that I cherish. I love you. -Barbara “Babs” Linn, RCIA 2012

“Barbara is the face of St. John XXlll to the Catholic inquirer and a more welcoming one you could not find. Her warmth and patience shined through as we spoke in Father Bob’s office during our initial interview. I remember her kindly presence during the many months of Sunday mornings spent learning about our beautiful faith. ‘Bind us Together, Lord’ was the hymn we sang every week. And bond we did, with Barbara, as our good shepherd.” -Ruth Condit, RCIA 2013

“Barbara was more than a teacher, she welcomed and cared about the entire person not just the religious aspect. I am so happy to have had the chance to meet with her each Wednesday evening to learn and discuss becoming Catholic!” -David Nelson, RCIA 2015

“Barbara was a great teacher and friend. She helped me with my journey in the Catholic faith and, she was my shoulder to cry on through the loss of my son, Carter. She still continues to pray for me and my family. She is one of the most kind, genuine people I know who welcomed our family into the church with open arms. I will never forget her kindness!” -Heather Armeros, RCIA 2016

DOB: What has been the most rewarding part of leading the RCIA ministry at St John XXIII ?

BC: The most rewarding part of this ministry is the joy of seeing people changing their lives and accepting Jesus and wanting to be part of our faith community.

Each person is called by God to inquire about our Catholic faith. They come at different ages, from different life experiences. Each person has their own unique story. Some come because they have experienced a loss of a loved one. Some, don’t really know why, but say that they have always been attracted to the Catholic Church, even if they have never been in one. Some come for unity of religion in the family.

Some come because of this parish because they are attracted to how we live out our Catholic faith. So many reasons…each person searching for a relationship with God. They want to know how the Catholic church is different from other Christian churches. This is a place a person can go to talk about God and faith in their lives. Every time I meet with them and hear their stories, they touch my heart and increase my faith.

DK: Talk about your passion for RCIA.

BC: I am passionate about the people. Especially, the people seeking faith. This ministry is a ‘people ministry.’ This process needs to have: Catechists: people who know their faith, live it and are willing to share it. We are so blessed in our parish. All 12 of the catechists are also involved in some other ministry besides being a catechist so the Inquirers get to know so many more people.

I do have a Planning Team: It has consisted of Ginny Whelan, Mark Bir, Leslie Robertson and Jennifer Engleman. Dan Pieper is our scribe. They have consented to stay with the RCIA process and this is a big gift because they have been involved for many years and know the people & the process and can move it forward with the use of all the multi media technology that is available. Sponsors are also needed. Each person coming into the Church needs to have a sponsor. Someone who will be there for them at the Rites we celebrate in the Church and be there when they need a friend. Then, we need Hospitality. The Women’s Guild has many ladies who have volunteered to bring goodies for the Sunday morning sessions and help on special occasions. Our priests, parish staff and you, the Assembly, the People of God are all a big part of this ministry.

Your welcoming manner, your smiles, your kindness are what makes our parish so very special. I say; “Thank You to all of you with all my heart!”

DOB: How has this ministry changed you?

BC: The RCIA process has been a special gift of God to me. To be part of this Journey of Faith is such a privilege. The Inquirers and Catechists really do become a family. We get to hear the stories and deepen our relationship with God and each other. In our sessions on our Catholic doctrine, I always hear something new. My faith is kept alive and challenged. Then at the different Masses, when I see the people who have come through the process and are active in our Church, I am so proud!! It has been over 10 years and I have made so many friends. I love this parish! I am not going anywhere. I am not sure just where the Lord will call me next. I will be listening. The RCIA process is a gift to our Church. If anyone reading this article would like to come into our faith, please call the parish office. You will be welcomed and treasured!!!

The new leadership team for St. John XXIII RCIA is made up of Leslie Robertson, Mark Bir and Ginny Whelan, team coordinator.

Below is an interview with Ginny Whelan on how the program will move forward:

DOB: Explain a little bit about what RCIA is for those who aren’t Catholic or don’t know much about RCIA.

RCIA at St. John XXIII is a team-delivered faith formation process centered on fostering a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. When provided information about the Roman Catholic Faith and through this formation, willing candidates are prepared to receive the Sacraments of Initiation – Baptism, Confirmation and the Eucharist at the Easter Vigil Mass on Holy Saturday. Members of the RCIA leadership team share responsibilities for sharing, instructing, facilitating and leading catechumens and candidates through the faith journey.

DOB: How will the ‘team approach’ be beneficial to the RCIA program and future growth?

The ‘team approach” addresses the growing class size and a year-round program. RCIA team members will support each other. It also allows us to share in the privilege of assisting catechumens and candidates as they respond to God’s call to follow the way of Christ.
DOB: If someone is interested in RCIA program, what should they do?

They have three options:

  • Call the parish office at 239-561-2245
  • Contact me, the RCIA Team coordinator at vwhelan99@gmail.com
  • Call me at 239-362-1283

Funeral Mass for Father Tom Palko:
Father Thomas Palko passed away on May 30th, 2016 at the age of 85. His funeral will be held here on Wednesday, June 15th at 10:00 a.m. followed by burial in the memorial garden and reception in the community room.

Father Tom was the founding Parochial Vicar at St. John XXIII.

Condolences may be sent to:
Fr. James Greenfield O.S.F.S. Provincial
2200 Kentmere Parkway, Wilmington, DE 19806